A few facts about this famous city, largely taken from the Lonely Planet:-
It is one of the oldest cities in India with Tamil and Greek documents recording its existence from the 4th century BC.
Madurai traded with ancient Rome and has, of course, outlasted that Empire. Whilst Chennai is the heart of Tamil Nadu, Madurai can be said to be its soul. It is perhaps best known for the Sri Meenakshi Temple, a six hectare complex enclosed by 12 gopurams (a pyramidal gateway tower of Dravidian temples), the highest of which towers 52 metres over the area.
Each gopuram is covered in a mind blowing array of carved gods, goddesses, demons & heroes in full colour. This temple is to the south what the Taj Mahal is to the north - a major cultural icon. The bulk of it was built in the early to mid 1600's, although its history goes back 2,000 years.
BTW: "Dravidian" is a general term for the cultures and languages of the deep south of India.
The inner parts of the complex are off limits to non-Hindus but that still leaves a great deal of marvelous stuff to see and we spent a couple of hours exploring.
Highlights for us included the magnificent 1000-Pillared Hall, the painted ceilings throughout and the vast number of shrines and fine bronze & rock sculptures. There are also many Deities being worshipped of course, including the Temple namesake Meenakshi Amman (who we couldn't see as she is in the Hindu-only area).
Meenakshi is an interesting goddess in that she is said to have been born with three breasts. There was a prophecy that the superfluous one would disappear when she met her husband. Happily, this prophecy came true when she became the consort of Shiva (worshipped here as Sundareswarar - the beautiful Lord).
As happens surprisingly often we were also asked by passers by if they could take our photo. This usually leads to us (and them) having group shots taken on their cameras (or cell phones) and ours.
Our most remarkable effort was to have our photos taken with a Bride and Groom and some of their wedding party within the temple - and what a lovely couple they were. It was quite emotional in fact, particularly with the family members being so obviously proud and happy.
After seeing as much as we could within the Temple it was back outside into the heat - with some help from a compass in order to find the correct exit for us (our shoes were stored in a 'cloak room' near the south entry gopuram - no shoes are allowed inside temples).
Despite the 36 degree heat it's always time for a Chai I say. Desley noticed that the Chai-wallah added three spoons of sugar to the glass which, in keeping with Chai cups everywhere in India, was quite small - probably about twice the size of a shot glass.
From here we set off by Bicycle Rickshaw to the Gandhi Memorial Museum, some twenty minutes away from Sri Meenakshi (20 minutes if you are a very slim Bicycle Rickshaw driver hauling two over-fed Westerners that is). We did tip him the equivalent of the entire fare though so he was pleased with that.
The Museum is quite large with a lot of detailed information. It doesn't pull any punches with regard to the actions of the British East India Company and the British generally but in the end (for practical purposes 1947, with the Partition) mention is made that after ruling the Country for so long the British withdrew graciously.
Much is made of Gandhi - and quite rightly too - and it was very sad to see the blood stained dhoti he was wearing when he was assassinated in Delhi in 1948.
Why a museum to Gandhi in Madurai? It was here that he took to wearing the dhoti as a sign of native pride back in 1921.
After our visit here it was again back to the hotel to revel in the air-con and have an afternoon snooze - it's a tough life!